I am by no means a dog trainer although I’ve had dogs in my life since I can remember. The goal of this regular blog is to help dog owners – that’s you – better understand and enjoy their dogs. We’ll delve into all things canine-related – so let’s get started!
The gift of dogs is that they are different from us. They have a wild side, instincts, and an acute sense of smell and hearing we can only imagine in our wildest dreams. Yet we often think of dogs as having the same view of reality and the same needs as us.
But dogs are different. When we are with our dogs we should honour their nature instead of trying to make them fit into our human view of nature.
Dogs experience the world in a way that often escapes our notice. Take a dog out on a walk on a spring day. The dog is connecting to the natural world through its senses. Every smell and sound and sight along the way demands its attention. The dog’s joy at ‘living in the moment’ can help us experience the natural world in a more meaningful way. We notice little changes in the season, the sounds in the air, the scent and the birdsong. This is the gift of the dog.
There’s a Far Side cartoon by the wonderful Gary Larson that shows a man scolding his dog for getting into the garbage. The man tells the dog “he’s had it” and the dog had better “stay out of the garbage or else!” In the cartoon the dog hears “…blah, blah, blah, GINGER, blah , blah blah…” It’s clear the dog understands just one word: GINGER (its name) as the man tries to discipline.
We talk to our dogs as if they are our best friend, employee, therapist or child. There’s nothing wrong with this but it might be helpful to remember the dog doesn’t understand us and will tune us out. Is it any wonder owners often complain their dogs don’t listen?
We can improve our understanding of dogs by using nonverbal forms of communication more often. Words are merely sounds that represent actions to dogs. They need body language, the tone of voice and emotion to understand.
Here’s an experiment: Try not talking to your dog for a while. “If you speak less, your dog will listen more,” according to the book “Let Dogs Be Dogs” by The Monks of New Skete and Marc Goldberg. As the book notes, the simple act of looking into your dog’s eyes can create a bond and understanding that goes beyond words.
To start, try using gestures to communicate what you want … since your dog speaks in body language. Try a nonverbal greeting when you return home. For example, bend down and hold out your arms in welcome instead of your usual form of dog greeting. Most dogs will like the invitation and respond, and a treat will always be welcome in dog language!
There are many ways you can communicate non-verbally with your dog – be inventive and playful and see what happens. In time you might be pleasantly surprised by how your dog responds to nonverbal communication. And you may find you are more present with your dog and in tune with its needs and nature as a result.
Regardless of how we interact with our dogs … whether petting, playing, looking into their eyes, or talking … we enjoy a special relationship that deepens over time. It’s been proven that having a dog reduces stress and increase relaxation and trust. It is no wonder we love our dogs!